New Delhi: A new controversy has broken in connection with the premature release of the 11 men who were convicted and sentenced to life for their role in the horrific Bilkis Bano rape-and-murder case of 2002.
The 11 convicts, according to official information submitted in the Supreme Court by the Gujarat government and accessed by ThePrint, stayed out of jail for long durations on either parole or furlough, and in some instances, remained out on parole for more than 30 days — the maximum period for which a convict can be given parole.
The Gujarat government affidavit was submitted in response to petitions challenging the state’s decision to allow premature release of the 11 men.
The government papers further show that while one of the accused, Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah, was released despite the district judge’s opposition, another’s — Mitesh Chamanlal Bhatt’s — application for remission was approved even though he was facing a police chargesheet for allegedly outraging the modesty of a woman when he was out on parole.
According to the Bombay Furlough and Parole Rules, (1959), which are applicable to Gujarat, a convict can be given parole for 30 days in one go. Rule 19 states that “a prisoner may be released on parole for such period not exceeding 30 days” in cases of serious illness, or the death of one of their nearest relatives such as the mother, father, brother, spouse or child, or in case of a natural calamity such as their house collapsing, floods or fire.
The rules allow an extension of parole by the sanctioning authority in similar circumstances. But a convict can’t be released on parole for a year after the expiry of his or her last parole, except in the case of one of their nearest relatives dying.
The affidavit shows that the 11 men remained on parole for periods as long as 90 days, despite the rules mandating 30 days with an extension in exceptional circumstances.
It’s not just parole; on many occasions, they were also given furlough for more than 14 days, the maximum duration allowed under the rules. While parole is contingent and is subject to conditions, furlough is a reward given to a convict for undergoing their sentence.
The documents annexed to the affidavit, however, don’t spell out the reasons for these longer durations of parole or furlough.
The affidavit also contains particulars of the state’s decision-making process, and the inputs it received from various authorities.
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Out for 90-day stretches
On average, each convict got a little over 1,000 days of parole during an approximately 14-year jail sentence. However, around half of this was in 2020 and 2021 — when the Supreme Court directed that many life term convicts across the country be given parole with the aim of decongesting jails to contain the spread of Covid in prisons.
The remission documents of one of the accused, Kesharbhai Khimabhai Vahoniya, show that he received parole for 90 days between 10 November 2010 and 8 February 2010. Similarly, he was out for 92 days between August 2019 and November 2019. In 2020 and 2021 — when the Supreme Court told states to decongest jails due to Covid — Vahoniya was out of jail for 491 days.
His co-accused, Pradip Ramanlal Modhiya, who was on parole for a total of 1,041 days, remained out of jail for three separate 90-day stretches — October 2019 to January 2020, April 2011 to July 2011 and September 2011 to December 2011. His records also reveal that he was on furlough for more than 14 days on three occasions — June 2010, June 2012 and August 2013.
Mitesh Chamanlal Bhatt got parole for a total 771 days and furlough for 234 days. He was out on parole for four 90-day stretches. Further, in the third stretch from September 2013, he surrendered 39 days after his three-month deadline ended.
Bhatt was charged with molestation in June 2020 for an incident that occured when he was out on parole the fourth time. Nevertheless, the local police report supported his remission. This was done after Bhatt gave an assurance that he would go back to jail in case the trial in the case resulted in his conviction, said the report.
Bhatt’s furloughs, too, crossed the mandated time period of 14 days; he was permitted to remain out of jail for periods exceeding 30 days.
Bipinchandra Kanhaiyalal Joshi was also given parole for three 60-day stretches and one 90-day stretch.
Rajubhai Babulal Shah not only received parole for 90 days three times, he also jumped parole during one of these stretches and surrendered only after 197 days of delay. On another occasion, in 2018, Shah got parole for 60 days.
Govindbhai Akhambhai Nayi, Rameshbhai Rupabhai Chandana, Rajubhai Babulal Soni and Jashvantbhai Chaturbhai Nayi were all also given parole for 90 days thrice. Meanwhile, Bakabhai Khimabhai Vahoniya was given two 60-day paroles.
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From life imprisonment in 2008 to remission in 2022
Arrested in 2004 in connection with the gangrape and murder case, the convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008 by a special sessions judge in Mumbai. This conviction and jail term was upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2017.
Upon completing 14 years in jail, the convicts were entitled to remission and therefore, all of them moved requests for their premature release in February 2021.
Former spokesperson of Tihar jail and lawyer Sunil Gupta told ThePrint that parole rules differ from state to state. For example, in Delhi, he said, a parole or furlough application can be made only when a conviction order by a lower court is upheld by a higher court on first appeal.
This means that even if the convict challenges the concurrent finding against him before a superior court, his application for parole or furlough can still be considered.
“However, states such as Haryana and Maharashtra do not follow the same norm. They decide parole and furlough applications immediately upon the accused’s conviction by the trial court, despite his or her appeal pending in a higher court,” Gupta said.
In the Bilkis Bano case, the convicts began getting released on both parole and furlough from 2010 onwards. This was after the trial court had convicted them for the offence and while their appeals were pending in the high court.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)
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